After a 3-0 loss to the University of Connecticut last Wednesday, the Yale volleyball team learned its lesson. The Bulldogs reduced the number of errors they committed and capitalized on their opponents’ mistakes, defeating Dartmouth 3-1 (30-25, 30-24, 20-30, 30-26) in Hanover, N.H., Friday evening and Harvard 3-1 (21-30, 30-20, 30-22, 30-28), in Cambridge, Mass. on Saturday evening.
Although several Elis (14-8, 6-5 Ivy) put on stellar performances, it was teamwork that broke the backs of the Big Green (9-14, 3-9) and the Crimson (8-14, 7-5).
“The defense played extremely well. We’re working much better as a team,” Yale head coach Erin Appleman said.
On Friday, Yale started off strong, hitting for an impressive .459 and .311, respectively, during the first and second games of its match against Dartmouth. Meanwhile, the Big Green only hit for a feeble .244 and .150, respectively, in those first two games.
The Bulldogs fell off in the third game, sinking down to Dartmouth’s level of performance in hitting percentage, kills and errors. Going toe to toe with the Big Green on the statistics sheets did not help the Elis — the Bulldogs lost by a yawning 10-point margin.
In the fourth game, Yale put on a showing that lacked the vigor with which they started the night. But it was enough as Yale finally put Dartmouth away.
Setter Jacqueline Becker ’06 had to leave the match after the second game again due to her knee injury. But Becker’s two replacements, Kerren O’Reilly ’06 and Kelly Cooper ’06 kept the Bulldog’s game going.
“It was a shift in dynamic but it was good to see that the team could go through in any situation,” captain Taryn Gallup ’04 said.
There were several Bulldog standouts such as outside hitter Jana Freeman ’05 who had a match-high 23 kills as well as 22 digs. Middle hitter Renee Lopes ’06 added 17 kills and outside hitter Anaja Perlebach ’07 contributed 19 digs. While playing only two games, Becker had 33 assists.
“Jana [Freeman] has increasingly improved throughout the season,” Appleman said. “She’s [become] one of the premier players in the Ivy League.”
On Saturday, Yale was a shadow of itself. Harvard crushed the Bulldogs in the first game 21-30. The Elis hit a measley .079 and sprouted numerous holes in their defense in the disaster.
Yale bounced back in the second game. The Bulldogs improved their serve-receive passing and went after every ball on defense, forcing the Cantabs to drop to a 0.068 hitting percentage.
At first, the second game looked like an exact copy of the first. Harvard jumped out to a 4-7 start before the Bulldogs awoke. The Elis went on a 12-4 run on the backs of contributions from every member of the team. Middle blocker Lauren Burke ’05 kept the ball in play with digs and blocks. The Bulldogs decisively ended the game with a 10-2 run highlighted by Freeman’s spikes.
The third game followed a similar pattern to the second. Yale reversed an early 5-8 deficit with a 14-3 run. Three straight kills from Lopes kept the Crimson from getting anywhere closer than a seven-point difference for the rest of the game.
In a neck-and-neck fourth game, the two teams traded runs before tying the game at 18. After three or four diving digs on both sides to keep the rally going, Yale finally won the decisive point and the match.
“I knew we were going to get the point,” outside hitter Christen Paluf ’06 said. “We wanted to beat Harvard so badly, especially after they beat us at home.”
Becker tallied 51 assists for the match, bringing her total to 910 for the season, the 10th highest single-season assist total in Yale history. But the numbers only tell part of the story. Despite the fact that both teams had four or more players who racked up 10 or more kills, Yale won the game with cooperative play.
“Even though everyone had their peaks and downs, we all played together as a team and supported one another,” Gallup said. “We were always on the same page at the same time.”
The Bulldogs return to the court next Friday to face Cornell at 7 p.m at the John J. Lee Amphitheater.